Sawayanagi Fellows Lunch 2024

The 2024 Sawayanagi Fellows Lunch - an annual networking and mentoring event organised by Tohoku University's Center for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) - was held on June 11 at Katahira campus, with the university's new president Teiji Tominaga in attendance.

The lunch meeting, which offers an opportunity for female researchers, students, faculty and staff to get together, share experiences and offer support for one another, attracted some 70 participants. It was the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic that the event was held in person.

In his speech at the start of the event, President Tominaga noted that Tohoku University has a long history of inclusiveness, adopting an 'open door' policy among its original tenets and accepting Japan's first female university students in 1913.

"It is often said that diversity is strength, and I truly believe that," he said. "From my perspective, it is essential to continue addressing the gender gap. Tohoku University has its 'one-third rule' for hiring researchers, which has been instrumental in increasing the number of female researchers. Currently, the proportion of female researchers is increasing by about one-percentage-point annually which, while still low, is a positive trend."

President Tominaga also spoke of his experiences as head of the Japan Neurosurgical Society from 2019 - 2021, where he led efforts to increase the number of female executive members.

"The field of neurosurgery has a very low percentage of women, and during my tenure the society's board meetings were always dominated by men," he said. "So I set up a new committee focused on diversity and we created a talent pool by recommending active female neurosurgeons from across the country. This pool is now used to recommend women for various committee roles and chair positions within the neurosurgical society, and this has led to better representation at all levels."

Sawayanagi Fellows - named after Tohoku University's first president Masataro Sawayanagi - are female professors who serve as mentors and role models for young female researchers and students. The annual Fellows Lunch was started in 2010 to help grow a supportive, cross-disciplinary network for women in academia.

"When I got the notice about this event, I thought it would be a great opportunity to meet new people, network with fellow female researchers and also to listen to the message from the new president," said Caroline Kijogi, an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Sciences. "Diversity is so important, especially in academia, because it brings out different perspectives and different ways of looking at things, which is critical in research."

Yuri Satake, a master's student at the Graduate School of Agricultural Sciences, said that there are very few women in her department and that she was at the event "to talk to other female researchers who can relate to my situation."

It's a sentiment that Professor Mami Tanaka, director of the Tohoku University DEI Centre, understands well. Tanaka was one of the few women in the engineering department when she was a student at Tohoku University in the 1990s.

"It can be very difficult when you think you are alone. I hope that knowing that there are other women or other people from under-represented communities here at the university going through similar experiences will provide a sense of security and encouragement to anyone who feels alone," she said.



Tohoku University Centre for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI)
Tel: 022-217-6092

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